Before Adrian Banie Lasimbang was appointed Senator, he worked tirelessly to empower rural indigenous communities in Sabah.
He has journeyed far from being a farmer to becoming an activist and a member of Dewan Negara, but this 41-year-old Penampang native aims to continue in his cause of finding sustainable methods to improve the livelihoods of those who have been disconnected.
For almost 20 years, Adrian – who studied engineering at Universiti Malaya – has trained communities in his hometown and other parts of Sabah (like Pitas and Pensiangan ) to be more independent, in the hopes of weaning them off government handouts.
He believes that handouts without proper follow-ups do nothing to address poverty, but instead make communities more dependent. “This method was used for decades and I’ve seen for myself how it cripples development,” he said.
Adrian calls it “the helicopter method”.
“When a helicopter hovers, the force from the rotating blades is strong enough to blow apart long grasses on the ground, revealing everything,” he explained. “But when it flies away, the long grass goes back into position and things are once again hidden from view.”
Adrian recalls one of his first ventures in the late-1990s was to bring farming technology to a rural community in Pitas, 174km away from his home, and where he found earlier tools given by the government had been left to rot in a storage space under a house.
“They didn’t know how to fix the equipment, so they just forgot about it for 10 years,” he said.
He added that in the past, not everyone in the community were made to understand how to use the tools except for the village head. But if he lost that knowledge, then it was gone for everybody too..
Adrian hopes future efforts to empower rural communities will use the community model, which engages everyone to take part and learn. He used this method to teach a village in Pensiangan how to build its own micro-hydroelectric generator to light up the area.
“When the neighbouring village heard what we were doing, they wanted to learn too, so I told them if you want to learn, you need to help us build it,” he said. This strategy spread to communities in four other villages .
Adrian is bracing for a challenging 2019 as he continues to advocate socioeconomic developments for rural communities in Sabah and Sarawak. He’s excited too. “Challenging because I believe we don’t have the financial strength, but exciting because the new goverment is open to new solutions,” he said.
He plans to work on improving access to roads, water, electricity and telecommunications for remote communities. Adrian said: “The easy path is to start from the outside and work your way in, but I want to work from the inside and work my way out. Hopefully both our efforts will meet in the middle.”